Did you know that more than a million people in the United States alone has HIV, or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus? Are you aware of how much damage this infection can cause? Do you want to learn more about what it really is so that you can effectively protect yourself against it?
What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which is a type of virus that attacks the body’s immune system. It can reduce the CD4 cell count in your body, resulting to a weaker immune system. Over time, if it remains undiagnosed and untreated, it can evolve into AIDS, and bring about a wide assortment of illnesses and complications that may lead to death.
Unlike other viral infections, HIV is not curable. However, its signs and symptoms can be managed by receiving certain treatment methods to allow anyone who is afflicted with it to live a long and normal life.
What are the common ways HIV is transmitted from one person to another?
There are specific activities that make possible the transmission of the HIV infection from an infected individual to a healthy one. The most common ones are the following:
· Vaginal sex – Having unprotected vaginal sex with an HIV positive patient opens you up to contracting the infection. If you are a woman with HIV, you can pass on the virus to your male sex partner if he does not wear a condom. On the other hand, if you are a man with HIV, you can spread the disease to your female sex partner if you do not wear a condom.
· Anal sex – Both insertive anal sex (or topping) and receptive anal sex (or bottoming) can spread HIV. So, it is essential to wear a condom to lower the odds of transmission.
· Sharing of syringes, needles, etc. – The blood of an HIV infected person can be a carrier of the virus. When getting a tattoo or body piercing, ensure that the tools and equipment used by the establishment are properly cleansed and sterilized.
HIV can also be transmitted via the following methods, albeit less commonly:
· From an infected mother to her baby – A pregnant woman can pass on the virus to her child in three ways — any time during her pregnancy, during child birth, or when breastfeeding. To avoid that, the patient is advised to start treatment as soon as possible. With proper medication, the risk of transmitting the virus to the baby is reduced.
· Oral sex – Compared to vaginal sex and anal sex, transmission of HIV via oral sex, which includes cunnilingus, fellatio, and rimming, is much less likely. However, in the rare times that it does happen, the virus is passed on through the bodily fluids, such as the semen, that gets into the mouth.
· Receiving blood, organ, or tissue contaminated with HIV – Many years ago, when HIV was still in its early years, transmission of the virus was quite common through blood transfusions, and organ or tissue transplants. Today, the risk has become extremely low, thanks to the strict and rigorous testings and rules in place for blood, organ, and tissue donations.
Can the virus live long or reproduce outside the human body?
It is not possible for HIV to survive very long outside a person’s body. In addition, it does not have the ability to reproduce and multiple if it is not inside a human host. You should not believe the things that you find online that says that HIV can be spread by ticks, mosquitoes, and other types of insects. There is no truth to HIV being transmitted just by touching, hugging, or shaking hands. There is also no way sharing toilets, closed-mouth kissing, sweat, or tears can spread the virus.
Does the risk of contracting HIV vary for each person?
Everyone’s likelihood of getting the HIV infection is different from each other. It is dependent on various factors, such as location, number of sex partners, and frequency and risk level of sexual activities.
If you live in an area that has a high rate of HIV infection among its population, your chances of meeting and having sex with an HIV positive individual is also higher. In addition, the odds of being exposed to contaminated needles, injections, syringes, and other equipment are also higher.
If you have multiple sex partners, getting infected with HIV is more probable than if you are in a mutually monogamous relationship. It is difficult to keep track of your sex partners’ other sexual activities, and, if they also have other sex partners aside from you, they might contract it from those other people, and pass it on to you.
If you are a homosexual or bisexual man, you belong to the demographic that makes up the largest percentage of the HIV patients in the United States. Partaking in unprotected anal sex is usually the culprit, so using condoms is critical to avoid contracting the infection.
If you are reckless with your sexual activities, such as you do not use condoms when having vaginal or anal sex, and you share syringes and needles, your odds of getting infected is great too.
When should you get an HIV test?
Each person has a different window period for HIV, and there is no HIV testing method that can provide an accurate diagnosis immediately after you get the infection. If you believe that you have been exposed to the virus in the last 48 to 72 hours, you should go see a doctor right away to know what to do next.
There different HIV testing methods your health care provider may recommend. Some examples are:
· Nucleic Acid Test – The Nucleic Acid Test (or NAT) can be conducted about 10 to 33 days after your exposure to the virus.
· Antigen/Antibody Test – The Antigen/Antibody Test is performed 18 to 45 days since first exposure to HIV.
· Home Rapid Antibody Test – The Home Rapid Antibody Test requires about 23 to 90 days after initial infection to provide a precise diagnosis.